The long-awaited second in a series (Lock In, 2014) that explores disability politics within the context of a near-future techno-thriller.
FBI Agent Chris Shane (gender carefully unspecified by the author) is a Haden, a survivor of a devastating meningitislike disease that has left them “locked inside” their body, able to interact with others only virtually or via sophisticated robots known as “threeps.” Chris and their partner, senior Agent Leslie Vann, investigate scandal and foul play in the world of Hilketa, a violent sport played by Haden-piloted threeps in which the objective is to tear the head off a designated threep and carry it to the goal. Promising player Duane Chapman inexplicably dies during a game intended to recruit new investors for the sport, and a league official who attempts to hide data about the suspicious incident commits suicide soon after. Labeling Chapman’s death a murder, Shane and Vann follow a trail obscured by arson, kinky affairs, FBI mishandling, threep attacks, and slimy lawyers to a scheme concerning Hilketa’s shady (and shaky) financing. As in the previous installment, the villain is obvious halfway through; the true puzzle is figuring out the details of and the motivations behind the complex plot. There is plenty of trenchant commentary on disability rights, prejudice against minorities, and the ways in which plutocrats take advantage of government funding. Readers will definitely show up for the witty banter and smartass takedowns Scalzi (The Collapsing Empire, 2017, etc.) liberally sprinkles through all his novels. They may be less amused at Scalzi's running joke about the way Chris’ threeps are always being destroyed, reminiscent of how Stephanie Plum’s cars are always exploding in Janet Evanovich’s novels; this sort of mild physical humor gets tired quickly. There’s also a vital clue that’s somewhat too reminiscent of a plot point in Men in Black.
Very clever, wonderfully satisfying fun.